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‘Free Mumia’ echoes in D.C.

Published May 2, 2012 10:53 PM
WW photo: Joseph Piette

“What else do you need to know about this case? There was a fourth person at the scene of the crime. That person was identified as the shooter. The presence of a fourth person was concealed at trial, and on those bases we are saying that Mumia Abu-Jamal must be immediately released!”

WW photo: Abayomi Azikiwe

With these words, Dr. Johanna Fernandez of Educators for Mumia and a lead organizer of the April 24 Occupy Department of Justice demonstration and civil disobedience action, set the tone for the day’s energy by providing specific details about Abu-Jamal’s case that has, up until now, been intentionally ignored by mainstream media. Fernandez, a professor at Baruch College at the City University of New York, also spoke about the federal investigation done in 1979 by the DOJ on the entire Philadelphia Police Department for corruption and brutality charges.

Over 1,000 demonstrators were privy to the experience of a rally for Mumia Abu-Jamal — a space that invokes diversity, creativity and love. The event was categorized as a “Festival for the Oppressed” as well as serving as a celebration for Abu-Jamal’s 58th birthday. Abu-Jamal was falsely railroaded to Pennsylvania death row in 1982. Due to decades of mass pressure, his death sentence was overturned in 2011. He is presently serving a life sentence in a Frackville, Pa., prison.

People received information from local, national and international organizations that are providing alternatives and resources for people who exist not only in the 99%, but in the bottom 1%. Speakers from organizations including the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the International Action Center, the Free Mumia Coalition (NYC), the Bradley Manning Support Committee, Returning Citizens, Students Against Mass Incarceration, Tucson’s May 1 Coalition and the National Lawyers Guild shared statements of solidarity for Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners as well as addressed issues of wealth disparity, racist profiling as epitomized with Trayvon Martin’s murder and the decimation of social programs.

Among the activists, community members, youth and elders present from all over the East Coast, as well as a delegation from France, was Public Enemy’s Chuck D, the voice of hip-hop’s resistance and self-determination.

“Connect yourself to the planet people. When you hear people talking about, ‘I wish consciousness will come back.’ It’s already here! It might not be here in large quantities, but it’s here in large quality.” His words were a call to action, reminding us of the importance of this moment, of this movement. “Pay attention to the quality of your consciousness, not just its quantity. We live in a country that always tries to say more is better. … If you happen to come here today, the quality of yourself is making a large statement to the world.”

Mumia’s inspiring message

The energy stayed magnetic and consistent with spoken word, dancing and music. Performances by Rebel Diaz, Jaziri X and M1 from Dead Prez kept the people, young and old, engaged throughout the day. Longtime activist Danny Glover called in expressing his words of support, and a very special call from Pennsylvania’s Mahanoy Correctional Facility was projected over the loudspeakers allowing the people to hear Mumia Abu-Jamal live.

“For many years I actually forgot my birthday and would only be reminded if my mother, wife, children or other family would send me a card. That’s because on death row, every day is like every other day. And a day alive is the only day you know you are not dead.”

Abu-Jamal encouraged the demonstrators to pay attention to California and the opportunity it has to end the death penalty there and remove over 684 people from death row, the largest death row in America, stating, “This would be a powerful symbol for the abolitionist movement.”

The final speaker of the program was Pam Africa, who, with her vibrant and contagious demeanor, ignited the people to begin a march to the White House, calling for the end of mass incarceration, the release of all political prisoners, and the demand for jobs, education, health care and not jails!

At the White House, over two dozen demonstrators held a sit-in and refused to leave when police came to disperse them. Those individuals, including several elderly women and a number of high school students, were arrested. Jail solidarity was arranged and a festive crowd of loved ones and supporters were present late into the night to greet them when they were released.

“The spirit of a movement is brewing, and now is the time for us to either answer the call to serve or sit back and exist in complicity. I chose to act,” said D.C. youth organizer Chioma Adaora.

The decision to hold the demonstration on a weekday was not missed by several organizers. “There is a need to show this country that enough is enough. We will sacrifice for the greater good, even if that means taking a day off from work in the midst of a potential double dip recession,” said Occupy DC organizer Damon Bascom.

Actions took place all over the U.S. and the world in honor of Abu-Jamal’s birthday, including the cities of Oakland, Houston, San Diego, London, Mexico City and Berlin. There was also a Wells Fargo protest on April 24 in San Francisco calling attention not only to the home foreclosure crisis, but also highlighting Wells Fargo’s investment in private prisons.

For more information about future actions and coverage of the event, visit www.occupythejusticedepartment.com.